Let’s Talk About Race…
Following the murder of George Floyd, in recent days we have seen people all around the world standing together against racism. At the University of Lincoln, we seek to be an anti-racist organisation with a zero-tolerance approach to racism and discrimination. Yet as events repeatedly remind us, racism is systemic and pervasive within our society, communities and institutions.
As we feel sadness and anger at these events, we must next look to what actions we can all take to address this inequality. But within higher education we face barriers to beginning these conversations. Some of us may feel afraid, nervous of ‘getting it wrong’. It might be easier not to engage in these conversations. As academic Nicola Rollock wrote “race, if mentioned at all in universities, is often shut down at a discussion point”. In a recent research project conducted by the HR Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) team, one University of Lincoln staff member commented “[we] have a bit of a problem with the words ’race’ and ‘racism…[they are] rather loaded words, so we would be unlikely in the team meeting, the staff meeting, to suddenly talk about racism or issues with race”.
The University recognises that racial inequalities remain a significant issue across society and within higher education. We feel these inequalities are important to be addressed and since 2016 we have been a member of the AdvanceHE Race Equality Charter, which provides a framework to support the University in identifying and removing the potential institutional and cultural barriers that could be standing in the way of our BAME students and staff.
With signing up to the Race Equality Charter Mark we accepted the following five guiding principles:
- Racial inequalities are a significant issue across society and within higher education. Racial inequalities are not necessarily overt, isolated incidents. Racism and racial inequalities manifest themselves in everyday situations, processes and behaviours.
- UK higher education cannot reach its full potential unless it can benefit from the talents of the whole population and until individuals from all ethnic backgrounds can benefit equally from the opportunities it affords.
- In developing solutions to racial inequalities, it is important that they are aimed at achieving long-term institutional culture change, avoiding a deficit model where solutions are aimed at changing the individual.
- While there is discrimination in our society, we must make sure we recognise that people are individuals and Black and minority ethnic staff and students are not a homogenous group. People from different ethnic backgrounds have different experiences of and outcomes from/within higher education, and that complexity needs to be considered in analysing data and developing actions.
- All individuals have multiple identities and the intersection of those identities should be considered wherever possible.
Whilst much work has been undertaken collaboratively with the Student Union and Eleanor Glanville Centre, over a number of years to address and confront racism and discrimination at the University, we acknowledge that there is more work to be done in order to create an institution that is part of the solution. Working alongside staff and student committees and groups we are committed to addressing racism and all forms of discrimination by engaging with staff and students to understand and address the issues that affect our community and provide support to drive the principles of our One community and Respect Charters.
If we are truly to live up to our values as One Community, a place where “together we are stronger”, we need to be able to talk about race and racism. Let’s take small steps to start with, let’s think about ourselves: what do we know about racism and how is it manifested? Have we ever experienced it? Is there anything we can do to prevent/stop it?
As a team we would like to help these conversations to happen. So, to open the discussion, we would like to share some definitions and some resources which we hope you will find useful.
If you have any comments or questions, or would like to be involved in ongoing race equality work, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us using the email email@example.com.
A legal definition of discrimination is set out in the Equality Act 2010 – when a person treats one person less favourably than they would another because of a protected characteristic. Protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation. Discrimination can also be by ‘association’ (when someone is treated less favourably due to an association with someone who has a protected characteristic) or ‘perception’ (when someone is treated less favourably because of a characteristic they are perceived to have). Discrimination can also be ‘indirect’, for example a policy applies to everyone and which appears to be neutral, but in practice places people with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage.
Race is a socially constructed idea- there is no genetic or biological basis for ‘race’. The Oxford English Dictionary describes racism as “a belief that one’s own racial or ethnic group is superior, or that other such groups represent a threat to one’s cultural identity, racial integrity, or economic well-being”. Many people find it hard to understand how prejudice and discrimination based on this definition of racism could be operating in a modern workplace. But racism in the workplace is more likely to be subtle. For example, offensive ‘banter’ which is dismissed as a ‘joke’, experiencing barriers to career progression or being less favourably treated when requesting flexible working arrangements compared to White colleagues.
Diversity is all about taking account of, valuing and celebrating the differences between us. A commitment to diversity is at the heart of the University of Lincoln’s mission to create One Community where “we thrive as a community because of our diversity”. Studies show that where organisations can successfully create a diverse community, colleagues can feel a sense of belonging and of being valued, spaces for innovation are created and staff turnover is reduced. A commitment to diversity is therefore morally just and of great benefit to our whole community. We all have a part to play in creating an inclusive environment for our colleagues and students.
Some further reading and resources
Below are some links to articles which describe and discuss some of these ideas in more detail. If you have come across other useful publications, please do consider sharing them with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.